Magazine article Art Monthly

Ashok Sukumaran

Magazine article Art Monthly

Ashok Sukumaran

Article excerpt

* Ashok Sukumaran

P3 London 13 March to 9 April

This is Ashok Sukumaran's first major exhibition in the UK, and the Mumbai-based artist is clearly troubled by this nation's un-neighbourly temperament. Take, if you will, art's various spheres--fine, media, activist--whose practitioners glare at each other across well-defined boundaries with evident hostility: I have met media artists who think all fine art is decadent, and gallery artists who think all media and activist art is politically (if not economically) naive. Sukumaran's first solo exhibition in the UK suggests this compartmentalisation is a western habit with deeper social roots.

At P3, a cavernous exhibition space beneath Westminster University's Marylebone campus, Sukumaran has installed a large static caravan and a VW camper van. Entering the static home, the visitor is able to relax on a foam-covered bench, admire the clean, dated interior, browse the motley books (Facets of the English Scene, Sleepy Time Tales) and listen to audio tapes on an old stereo system (Ford Talkback Selection: Comedy Classics). On my first visit I was even offered a cup of tea and some Cool Original Doritos by a kindly attendant. This, however, is not so much a Rirkrit Tiravanija-style social engagement as an opportunity to directly experience a designed environment. Within the VW camper, one can fiddle with the intricate all-in-one cooking and storage unit before donning a set of headphones and tuning into a murky babble of street sounds.

Despite these participatory leanings, the installation felt meagre; the two caravans were empty vessels waiting to be filled by any number of possible meanings. Thankfully, a more robust conceptual framework was fleshed out in a forum entitled Who is the Neighbour/What is the Neighbourhood?, also held at P3, and presented by Sukumaran, media theorist David Garcia and architectural professor Murray Fraser. Each spoke eloquently, but the most pertinent in this context was Fraser's invocation of Reyner Banham's essay 'The Great Gizmo': a quasi-manifesto written in 1965 proposing that portable technology (such as a caravan) could lead to a sort of nomadic freedom from want. To this genealogy, I would also add Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's notion of 'nomadology', a potent yet toothless romance of rebellion. Of course, the concept has sharp critics: Banham himself wrote that in Europe, 'the pastoral dream has meant withdrawal behind protective barriers to keep out the pressure from the hoi polloi'. …

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